China: the Struggle Within: The Cultural Revolution and the Fall of Lin Piao (Part 2)

The Cultural Revolution
and the Fall of Lin Piao (Part 2)

August 25, 1972



No social revolution has ever coincided with the conception entertained by the ideologists of its time or its leading participants. Probably the Russian Revolution comes closest to conceptions which were held by its principal leaders. So many misconceptions of the Chinese Revolution prevailed, that years after the triumph of the Revolution and the ouster of Chiang Kai-Shek, the class character of the Chinese Revolution was still shrouded in confusion.

Just as the West European social democrats and the Mensheviks in Czarist Russia could not believe that a proletarian revolution was possible in a backward country overwhelmed by a huge preponderance of the peasantry and an ill-developed bourgeoisie, so Western scholars and Marxists to boot, went even further in the case of China and even denied that a proletarian revolution had taken place. They advanced substantially the same erroneous theories as their colleagues in the earlier era and compounded them.

The long years in which the Chinese Red Army led by the CPC was conducting the struggle against the bourgeois-landlord regime of Chiang Kai-Shek was characterized as agrarian in its class nature. The CPC itself, regardless of its advocacy of Marxism-Leninism, they explained, was merely promoting an agrarian revolution. This view was particularly rampant in the United States and vigorously pushed by the liberal bourgeoisie, including some of the highest ranking State Department officials, not to speak of the influential liberal publicists such as Owen Lattimore and others.

Some organizations which proclaimed themselves Marxists were particularly stubborn in promoting this view and even the CP leaders in this country, undoubtedly getting their cue from the Soviet leaders, while expressing solidarity with a fraternal party nonetheless conveyed the impression that they too, in a large measure, regarded it as basically an agrarian revolution successfully carried out. Whether this objectively reflected the arrogance implicit in the attitude of an imperialist ruling class toward a formerly colonial country, only history will be able to confirm. It is at least as likely that the reservations of the Western CP leaders, generally, reflected the fear of the Soviet bureaucracy of the consequences that a proletarian revolution in China would entail in the struggle for leadership over the Communist movement and of the world working class.

As we have seen, the Chinese Revolution can be divided into two great phases. The first one -- we are still using the words of Engels -- "displaced one definite class rule by another" -- in this case the ouster of the bourgeois-landlord class from power and the establishment of what was in essence a Proletarian Dictatorship. But this victorious revolution, like all previous victorious revolutions (at least in European history) became endangered by restorationist elements. What was needed historically, was a second, supplementary revolution, in order to fortify, consolidate, and safeguard the fundamental accomplishment of the first revolution, the new class dictatorship. Hence the Cultural Revolution. In the minds of its participants it might have been conceived as an entirely new revolution, a revolution which had far loftier objectives than the mere safeguarding and securing of new property relations which had already been won more than a decade ago. But the subjective desires of the participants and the objective historical result, while not completely at variance, certainly did not conform with reality as it has unfolded.


What was the historical mission of the Jacobin dictatorship? It was to clear the road for the rule of the French bourgeoisie. In France more than anywhere else, feudalism had been extinguished, cut root and branch, by the Revolution. Yet the bourgeoisie did not, until late in the nineteenth century, hold exclusive political power. It again and again fell back to sharing it with other class formations. Even more so in England. The bourgeoisie there never held undivided sway. "Even after the victory of 1832," says Engels, "the bourgeoisie left the landed aristocracy in almost exclusive possession of the leading government offices." It took Bismarck to unify Germany. He swept away the feudal obstructions to the development of German capitalism. He himself was, of course, a junker and it was the junker feudal landed aristocracy that dominated Germany. Indeed the German bourgeoisie did not rule directly until the Weimar Republic (after World War I).

The basic reason why it is possible for the bourgeoisie to share power with segments of the older feudal classes such as the aristocracy, is, of course, that they are both possessing classes, both exploiting classes, and they share a common hostility to the exploited. Their interests, nevertheless, are antagonistic.

This is equally well demonstrated by the Civil War in the United States. What was the historic mission of the North's struggle against the South? In order to arrive at a conclusion, we ought to view the entire period of the Civil War and Reconstruction as two phases, two great historical turning points, just as in the Chinese Revolution. What was the objective of the struggle? The Northern ruling class and the Southern ruling class, as we said, were both possessing, oppressing, and exploiting classes. But the North based itself in and had its origin and development in the modern capitalist mode of production which is based on the private ownership of the means of production and on wage labor. The Southern ruling class was also an exploiting, oppressing, possessing class no more avaricious than the Northern ruling class. It too based itself on the private ownership of the means of production but on chattel (slave) labor, not on wage-labor. Slavery in the U.S. was an integral part of the bourgeois mode of production in the system of commodity production. But whereas the North based itself on the modern capitalist industrial form of wage exploitation ( "free labor" ), the South was based wholly on slave labor. The two systems were economically incompatible. A struggle between them became inevitable because the slave system could not adequately compete with the wage system of exploitation and was doomed to destruction.

In the minds of its progressive participants, the struggle was between "freedom and slavery." But the struggle of the Northern bourgeoisie against the slave-owning aristocracy was not out of any regard for freedom as such, but was pursued because the slave system of exploitation was inhibiting the expansion of the modern capitalist system of wage slavery, capitalist production, and accumulation. Four years of Civil War proved inadequate to firmly establish the capitalist wage system and the economic framework necessary for its functioning or to completely root out the remnants of chattel slavery which later took the form of a feudal type of peasant-landlord relationship on the land (peonage). This tended to reduce the mass of the emancipated slaves to second degree citizenship, devoid of the rights of emancipated wage labor in the North. The period in history known as Reconstruction was a great effort by the Radical Republicans to bring about full freedom ("free labor"), full political equality for all (all males). This was the second phase of the revolution. It was historically needed, not as it was conceived in the minds of many who participated in it, to bring about full political equality of all citizens, but merely to secure, as Engels would say, "safeguard, the achievements of the first revolution."

The historic mission of the second revolution was to complete the destruction of chattel slavery, to destroy the power of the former slave owning aristocracy, and to safeguard the revolution against any restoration.

Having achieved that, the conservative wing of the second revolution "was satisfied." The other wing, the Radical Republicans, which wanted to go further and bring about complete equality in political life, "vanished from the scene." Finally, the revolution ended in the shameless episode of the betrayal of 1877 which gave the Southern ruling class complete sway over the emancipated Black masses. The Southern ruling class was rearmed to protect its newly regained power. Full political rights to the Black masses, as the bourgeoisie saw it, was not necessary for the functioning of their capitalist industrial system of exploitation. The maintenance of the Black masses in a subjugated and politically expropriated status served the Northern ruling class' ability to expand capitalist accumulation but only in alliance and partnership with the Southern ruling class.

As can be seen, the Northern capitalist class made an accommodation with the Southern ruling class with whom it shared power rather than to leave them powerless by a continuation of the revolutionary struggle. To this very day, Northern capitalists share power with their Southern colleagues because of, among other reasons, the compromise that they made a century ago which smoothed the way for capitalist expansion and accumulation and the ultimate conversion of the competitive stage of capitalism into monopoly capitalist imperialism. Therein lies the origin of the super-exploitation of the Black masses and the reason why the Northern bourgeoisie did not fully emancipate the Black people. Only a proletarian revolution can fully emancipate all the oppressed, Black and white.


As we have seen, the bourgeoisie as a class has not always been able to rule exclusively without sharing power in a coalition with other classes or their representative factions. It has been able to rule exclusively only since the late nineteenth century. Only the North American bourgeoisie has held exclusive power -- but only because feudalism was unknown on this continent. The settlers who ventured to the shores of the new world were not confronted with an entrenched feudal social order. How different it was with the establishment of the two great socialist states, the Soviet Union and China. In both countries, there was a huge preponderance of peasant masses, an ill-developed bourgeoisie which had not bequeathed the necessary industrial and technological framework to enable the proletariat to commence an easy transition to socialism. In both countries the legacy that the former possessing classes left was one of backwardness in industry, in technique, in education, and practically all fields of social development. Moreover, an imperialist bourgeoisie, which had survived numerous social catastrophes and attempted proletarian revolutions (in Europe at least), still dominated over the major portion of the human race. Its industrial, technological, and military power stood, and still stands, as the greatest threat to the socialist development of the USSR and China, other socialist countries, and the liberation movements.


Almost a quarter of a century after the Chinese Revolution and more than half a century since the October Socialist Revolution, the factors of industrial backwardness, preponderance of a huge peasantry, and the strengthening and revival of the imperialist system after the Second World War are still the basic factors that account for the eagerness, particularly on the part of the Soviet and Chinese leadership, to make an accommodation with the imperialists and renounce revolutionary internationalism.

There are those who see the regressive policy of both the Soviet Union and China as emanating almost exclusively from treachery and conspiracy. Others attribute it solely to mistakes in policy, the victory of reactionary over revolutionary leaders and the absence of proletarian democracy. Even taking all thus into account, these policies can only be understood in the light of the broader perspective of objective circumstances of which they undoubtedly are the result.

However, if we view the problem in the light of half a century of experiences, and in the light of the earlier experience of the bourgeoisie in the struggle against opponent possessing classes, we see that at certain stages in its development, as a ruling class, they were forced at various times and under varying circumstances to share power with opponent possessing classes. We see now that it is also characteristic of proletarian dictatorships established in backward countries. The same tendency toward accommodation evidenced by the bourgeoisie before it attained full, exclusive political power is also common to the governing groups representing the socialist countries. There is however a fundamental difference between the objective historical result obtained by the bourgeoisie as against that obtained by the governing leadership in the USSR and China.

The alliance that the bourgeoisie made with the older class formations, such as the landed aristocracy, had thus indubitable advantage which enabled it ultimately to conquer the feudal classes and take them completely in tow. The feudal system is a basically static system. The bourgeois system is dynamic. The bourgeoisie must constantly revolutionize its methods of production, speed development, improve technology, and adapt itself to the changing needs of the capitalist market. This is the law of life for the bourgeoisie. The development of the productive forces in the imperialist epoch is, of course, retarded if compared with what a social system will do, but within the framework of capitalist production, the bourgeoisie continues the pursuit, with breakneck speed; of the development of technology. The feudal classes were not only static but they based their existence, as Marx pointed out as early as the Communist Manifesto, on the preservation of the old methods of production.

The bourgeoisie bases itself on constantly revolutionizing the method of production. The old mode of feudal production (or chattel slavery as it existed in the United States) having been destroyed, the bourgeoisie by the mere automatic processes of capitalist production and the blind forces of the market was ultimately able to reduce all previous social classes to its sway. Thus, elements of the landed aristocracy in Britain ultimately became Bourgeois industrialists. The bourgeoisie for a long time used a feudal monarchy and was able to convert it into a Bourgeois monarchy. And the former parties of the feudal classes were absorbed into the Bourgeois Political system and became bulwarks of reaction on behalf of the Bourgeois ruling class against revolutionary threats by the proletariat and oppressed peoples.


The socialist system, at least in its initial formative stages, does not develop automatically; by its very nature it has to be consciously planned and organized. And in this respect it differs vitally from the bourgeois mode of production which is regulated by blind economic forces.

Because the first two great socialist proletarian revolutions took place not in the industrialized capitalist countries, but in underdeveloped countries, they faced some of the same problems that the early bourgeoisie faced in its struggle as a nascent ruling class.

Ever political upheaval at the summit of governmental leadership is a symptom of social disturbance below.

An attempted coup, such as is attributed to Lin Piao, can only be a reflection of serious instability in the social and political relations between the basic classes in contemporary Chinese society.

According to the official statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Algiers on Lin Piao, the explanation for Lin Piao engaging in a plot to assassinate Chairman Mao and seize power through a coup can be understood in a large measure from (1) "his underhanded nature" (2) "he was a two-faced man" who in reality was opposed to the "revolutionary foreign policy of Mao," and (3) "did not change his perverse nature one iota."

Acceptance of such an explanation for an enormous historical event does violence to history itself, especially if one examines the array of leaders involved.

These include: Lin Piao, the Defense Minister, Politburo member and military leader since the early Thirties; Chen Po-ta, a member of the standing committee of the Politburo, a leader of the Cultural Revolution and for many years Mao's personal secretary; Huang Yung-sheng, former chief of the general staff of the armed forces; Wu Fa-hsien, commander of the air force; Li Tso-peng, deputy chief of staff and political commissar of the navy; Chiu Hui-tso, deputy chief of staff of the army and head of the logistics department; Yeh Chun, a member of the party Politburo and director of the administrative office of the party military affairs committee; and Lin Li-kuo, Lin's son who was deputy director of the air force operations department.

Such a conception brings us back to pre-Marxist notions of history where good men and evil fought plots and counter plots and where the reign of the arbitrary was the supreme rule of history.

But Marx's development of the materialist conception of history demonstrates conclusively that all political phenomena have a class base. It is especially true of political events of such enormous historical import as this elimination of an entire stratum of leadership. They not only were most prominent during the Cultural Revolution, but some of them spent their entire lifetime in the midst of the leadership of the CPC throughout the course of the Chinese Revolution.

Lenin wrote on December 24, 1922, in one of his last letters, regarding "grave differences in our party" which might cause a split. He went on to say: "Our party relies on two classes (workers and peasants) and therefore its instability would be possible and its downfall inevitable if there were no agreement between those two classes. In that event this or that measure, and generally all talk about the stability of our C.C., would be futile. No measures of any kind could prevent a split in such a case. But I hope that this is too remote a future and too improbable an event to talk about."


Lenin wrote this, of course, before collectivization in the Soviet Union took place. But even a collectivized peasantry is by no means a proletarian class. Collectivization sets the framework, and the socialist future depends on a multitude of factors in which a thoroughgoing industrialization and rationalization based on the most modern technique is most essential. The gap between rural life and life in the city is a great factor. It cannot be easily overcome even under the best of conditions.

The political denouement of the Lin-Chen grouping is the objective result of the instability of class relations in China, following upon the heels of the Cultural Revolution. Of course, they are immeasurably more stable than the relations in any of the bourgeois countries. The political crisis resulting in the Lin-Chen ouster reflects the true dimensions of this instability, and of Chairman Mao's quest for a resolution of it by fundamental changes in the foreign policy.

The extraordinary degree to which the Chinese peasantry was receptive to the revolutionary propaganda of the CPC and the PLA is often attributed solely to the tactics and strategy pursued by the leadership. This of course was very important and decisive.

But what is often lost sight of are the objective conditions which enabled the masses to respond to a revolutionary call to arms from a Marxist-Leninist party.

The Chinese peasantry, unlike peasants in Western Europe or in other semicolonial countries, had a great deal more in common with the Chinese proletariat. As Engels says in The Peasant Wars in Germany, concerning events more than four hundred years ago, "the German peasant of that time had this in common with the modern proletariat: that his share in products of the work was limited to a subsistence minimum necessary for his maintenance." (International Publishers, 1926)

The protracted character of the Chinese revolution and the ruthless war upon the Chinese people conducted by the Japanese imperialists, which had caused such unspeakable havoc, economic dislocation, ruination and destruction of lives and property, reduced the bulk of the Chinese peasantry, not only to the level of subsistence of the Chinese proletariat, but way below it, making the peasant far more susceptible to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois landlord regime.

The dictatorship of the proletariat has the economic and political problem of how to share, not only the work of socialist construction, but the distribution of the income between the classes, the workers, the peasants and all intermediate strata of the population.

Moreover, there is still the bourgeois intelligentsia, which, although shorn of its power, has not been destroyed but in the process of being reeducated, necessarily plays a key, if not central role in the economic, industrial, scientific and other phases of life.

More than in any other socialist country, the gap between the privileged and the ordinary worker or peasant has been narrowed and material inequality reduced, certainly by comparison with the Soviet Union. But the social contradictions continue, and are exacerbated, among other things, by the ever increasing need of scientific and technological resources diverted for defense needs, which consume no small portion of the fruits of socialist construction.

Collectivization in China has made truly remarkable accomplishments. This is accounted for particularly by the participation of the masses, and the enthusiasm it evoked in the course of such a radical transformation. It took place without pushing, in fact avoiding, the type of material incentives which break up the solidarity of the masses, which was the practice in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the peasantry as a class is distinguished from the urban proletariat.

Both China and the Soviet Union have had to resort to huge purchases of wheat from the imperialist countries. This is only one aspect of an internal contradiction in socialist countries which manifests itself in the form of some dependence on the West. Some of the more sophisticated technology developed in the capitalist countries is needed for socialist construction both in the USSR and in China. This is another aspect of dependency.

Finally, the productive forces which are restricted by the character of having national states in the socialist bloc, with just bare economic ties between the countries, and lacking the necessary comradely economic cooperation, is another drawback. The socialist camp, economically speaking so far as China and the Soviet Union go, is merely a potential. Great power chauvinism shown by the Soviet leaders since the death of Lenin in relation to the other socialist countries has alienated them, forced each to seek its "own" road to socialist construction which, from the point of view of Marxism, is a reversion to anachronistic national self-sufficiency in the socialist camp.


Although the Soviet Union has somewhat relaxed its rigid dominant economic control over COMECON (which is the USSR's answer to the imperialist Common Market) in Eastern Europe, it is nothing like the necessary socialist cooperation between socialist countries which respect each other's sovereignty and are all pledged to socialist construction for the common good of all.

Rumania is a classic example of a small socialist country that ordinarily has everything to gain by economic cooperation with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in a common bloc or socialist federation. Ceaucescu's half-turn to the West can only be explained on the basis of the Soviet leaders' shabby treatment of the People's Republic of Rumania. What the Soviet Union tried to do or force upon Rumania was the kind of division of labor in COMECON which would leave Rumania underdeveloped, economically deformed, and an appendage to Soviet needs rather than on the basis of the common needs of all the socialist countries.

The PRR has no fundamental political differences with the Soviet leaders and its overtures to the West are based strictly on economic considerations.


These then are some of the fundamental factors that lie behind the latest phase of developments in both China and the Soviet Union.

The Lin Piao affair must be seen in that historical perspective, as China's and the Soviet Union's eagerness to make an accommodation, some sort of more or less stable detente, with the imperialist West at the expense of the Vietnamese people and the world revolution flows from the constellation of historical forces.

Any number of erroneous conclusions can be drawn from this especially in this land of classic rabid anticommunism. In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, the well-known liberal publicist I.F. Stone, writing about the capitulation of both China and the USSR on the Haiphong crisis, said "Brezhnev and Chou En-lai have become the running dogs of the U.S. imperialists." Certainly the conduct of the Chinese and Soviet leaders in the Haiphong crisis can evoke an easy protest and utter disgust. I. F. Stone is angry at the Nixon administration for its imperialist brinkmanship and is frustrated, as are millions of others throughout the world, that neither the Soviet nor the Chinese leaders should pick up the challenge (not necessarily in a nuclear confrontation). Stone's characterization of the leadership of China and the Soviet Union cannot however be taken for a serious appraisal. Stone will take comfort from his frustration in joining the McGovern campaign.

Revolutionary Marxists cannot for long afford the luxury of pessimism. The need is to chart a course for the revolutionary struggle against imperialism based upon an accurate appraisal of the position and orientation of the Soviet and Chinese leaders as well as the domestic situation.


The Soviet leaders (and the Chinese leaders to a lesser extent) have renounced the perspective of world revolution and have abandoned the liberation struggle. But by no means have they galloped into the arms of imperialist policy and stabilized their relations with the U.S. on the basis of carrying out Washington's orders.

Such mistaken conclusions have been made with regard to the Soviet Union in the late thirties during the Stalin-Hitler pact period which swung an entire generation back into the camp of social democracy.

Regardless of any and all attempts at accommodation, the two social systems -- that of the imperialist system and the socialist system prevalent in the Soviet Union and China -- are diametrically opposed to each other and are based on antagonistic class structures.

Any accommodation, any secret arrangements that have been made can only be of a temporary character. They will, of course, hurt the world movement. They are not however like the accommodations and alliances made between the bourgeoisie and the feudal classes or between the North and the South in the United States. The accommodation made between those classes were viable accommodations because the bourgeoisie, by virtue of the automatic processes of capitalist production, was able to assimilate whatever class fragments of the feudal classes were left into the bourgeois order of society and actually strengthen the system against the exploited classes. There was a common denominator between those classes. They were both possessing, exploiting social formations and had a common hostility to the oppressed.

It is otherwise with the socialist states. The class differences between them and the bourgeoisie are of an utterly irreconcilable character. Neither system can long endure, as Lenin so well said in 1921, without there being a funeral for one or the other. The fundamental basis for the revival of the capitalist system of exploitation, as particularly evidenced following the Second World War, lies in the fact that contrary to Marx's original prognosis, the socialist revolution came first not where conditions were most favorable for the development of socialist society, but where the imperialist system was weakest. The failure to overthrow the capitalist system in Western Europe, aside from fundamentally false policies, indicates that the task of proletarian revolution is an immeasurably more difficult one than had been conceived prior to World War I.

On the other hand, the imperialist system in the epoch of its general decline cannot go on without enormous economic crises, political catastrophes, counter-revolutionary coups, subversion of socialist countries, and the prosecution of imperialist wars. This alone makes the proletarian revolution necessary and inevitable.

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